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About the Artists
Presspectives

Knotted Alembic

Thanos Chrysakis, Philip Somervell

Duration 43.34 | Released November 2011

THANOS CHRYSAKIS                PHILIP SOMERVELL

INSIDE PIANO                             INSIDE PIANO/PIANO

SYNTHESIZER,

VIBRAPHONE & RADIO

SHRUTI BOX

CHIMES

 

 

THE RIVER IS WITHIN US, THE SEA IS ALL ABOUT US

About the Artists

Thanos Chrysakis’ output consists of composition, performance, and installation. He was born in Athens in 1971. After residing in the UK between 1998–2014 he moved in 2015 to Belarus.

With several albums to his name his work has appeared in festivals and events in several countries, including CYNETart Festival, Festspielhaus Hellerau – Dresden, M:AI (Museum für Architektur und Ingenieurkunst NRW) – Berlin, Diapason Gallery – New York, ohrenhoch - der Geräuschladen Gallery – Berlin Neukölln, XXII “Sound Ways” International New Music Festival – St Petersburg, Artus Contemporary Arts Studio – Budapest, CRUCE Gallery – Madrid, Fylkingen – Stockholm, Relative (Cross) Hearings festival – Budapest, ZEPPELIN festival – Barcelona, Festival Futura 2013 – Crest-Drôme, XIII Festival Internacional de Música Nueva – Monterrey, Oosterkerk – Amsterdam, Störung festival – Barcelona, Center for New Music – San Francisco, Västerås Konstmuseum –Västerås, BMIC Cutting Edge concert series - The Warehouse – London .

His music has been also frequently aired by RAI Radio 3, BBC Radio 3, Radio Portugal Antenna 2, Radio Nacional de España, FM Brussel, Polskie Radio (Warsaw), Elektramusic (Strasbourg), Undae! Radio and Onda Sonora - Radio Circulo de Bellas Artes (CBA) (Madrid). He composes for electronic and acoustic instruments as well environmental sounds, focusing on the structural, aesthetic and transfigured capacity of sonic matter.

His work was amongst the selected works at the International Competition de Musique et d'Art Sonore Electroacoustiques de Bourges 2005, in the category œuvre d'art sonore électroacoustique, while received an honorary mention in 2006 at the 7th International Electroacoustic Competition Musica Viva in Lisbon.

 

Picture of Thanos Chrysakis

Anglo-Chilean pianist currently residing in Brazil. Studied Jazz and Philosophy in London, where he worked for several years as a teacher.

Plays inside and outside piano. Was featured at Freedom Of The City (2010 and 2011), As Alike As Trees Festival (2011), The Workshop Concert Series at Café Oto, and the Interlace concert series at Goldsmiths College. Philip played in a trio with Eddie Prevost and Guillaume Viltard, and has intermittent private and public collaborations with Jennifer Allum, Jamie Coleman, Seymour Wright, Federico Reuben, Jerry Wigens, Paul May, among others. Philip also plays in and writes for Aida Severo and Pippo’s Progress.

 

Picture of Philip Somervell

Presspectives

Matěj Kratochvíl, His Voice Magazine, 14.01.2013

Aténský skladatel a zvukový experimentátor Thanos Chrysakis si před pěti lety založil vydavatelství Aural Terrains jako základnu pro výzkumy na pomezí kompozice a improvizace, elektroniky a nestandardních způsobů hry na akustické nástroje. Letošní CD Syneuma, na němž se k Chrysakisovi připojili James O'Sullivan a Jerry Wigens, jsme již recenzovali. Na albu Magnetic Riverse k nim připojili ještě Sébastien Branche, Tom Soloveitzik a Artur Vidal. Obsazení se třemi saxofony (Branche, Soloveitzik, Vidal) a klarinety (Wigens), klavírem hraným zvenku i zevnitř, s elektronikou a kytarou nabízí nepřeberné zvukové možnosti. A velkým kladem nahrávky je, jak se přitom všichni zúčastnění dokáží držet zpátky. Chrysakis sám tu tentokrát není v roli skladatele, ale jen členem v kolektivu improvizátorů, v jedné z pěti bezejmenných částí si dokonce dopřeje pauzu.

Témbry saxofonů a klarinetů jsou tu dominantní, ovšem přesně určit zdroj zvuku je občas problém, stejně jako odpověď na otázku, jak moc intervenuje Chrysakisova elektronika. Osamělý závan vnějšího světa přináší krátký vstup nesrozumitelného hlasu (snad z televize), nápadnější efekty nikde růžky nevystrkují. Když se všichni hráči ztiší a vyluzují sotva slyšitelné šelesty, rozdíly mezi zvuky nástrojů se zmenšují, jako bychom porovnávali padesát odstínů šedi. Právě přesuny mezi sférami zvuků již skoro neslyšitelných a zvuků znělých je jednou důležitou osou celé nahrávky. Tou druhou jsou přechody mezi statickými plochami, v nichž se hlasy potkávají v někdy až překvapivě libých a harmonických souzvucích, často spojených s pravidelným rytmickým podkladem jakéhosi škrábání, chrastění, ťukání, a oblastmi rozpadu a chaosu, kde na sebe zvuky poštěkávají, pravidelnost a plynulost se ztrácí, klid je zneklidněn. Každá z částí opíše mezi těmito póly křivku a jedna přechází téměř nepostřehnutelně v druhou. Mezi sytostí a vybledáváním, klidem a jeho rozkladem utečou necelé tři čtvrtě hodiny velice rychle a s každým dalším poslechem lze odhalovat nové a nové detaily.

Julien Héraud - 05.01.2012

Simultanément au duo Matthews/Tabuenca, Thanos Chrysakis publiait sur son propre label un autre duo de lui-même (intérieur du piano, synthétiseur, vibraphone, radio, shruti box, carillon) en compagnie de Philip Somervell (piano et intérieur du piano). Sept pièces sans titres et complètement improvisées, enregistrées en 2010 et en 2008.

Ici, le duo agence des textures souvent calmes, parfois même très calmes ou silencieuses. Des textures plutôt belles et espacées, harmonieuses presque par moment et en tout cas toujours originales. Alors qu'une balle en plastique frotte le bois du piano pour obtenir une sorte de drone, des carillons sont légèrement percutés et un accord de piano surgit par moments. Ou bien, des notes espacées par de longs silences surgissent brutalement pour s'effacer assez lentement dans une longue résonance à laquelle les deux musiciens prêtent toujours beaucoup d'attention. Une musique quelque peu fantomatique, où il importe peu que les notes se frottent, mais où il importe surtout que les résonances s'entremêlent et s'affectionnent. Improvisations plutôt minimales et très attentives à la résonance et au son de manière générale (attaques, préparations du/des piano), ces sept pièces construisent des univers exempts de toute tension, des univers calmes et apaisants malgré les quelques frottements entre les notes. Il y a un caractère méditatif assez constant tout au long de ces improvisations, méditations sur le son et sur l'espace que ce dernier remplit ou non, méditations sur la manière dont le silence peut structurer l'espace et enfin, méditations sur les caractéristiques propres à chaque timbre et à chaque texture. De manière générale, les pièces sont horizontales, chaque note glisse le long d'un fil hors de toute pulsation et hors de toute échelle harmonique. Un calme imperturbable semble hanter chacune de ces improvisations durant lesquelles les deux pianistes peuvent expérimenter une multitude de combinaisons texturales sans que jamais n'apparaisse la moindre tension.

Très belles improvisations formant un territoire sonore apaisé, calme, poétique et sensible. Du bon boulot.

James Wyness - 02.01.2012

This new release reveals more of the rich inventiveness and creative drive behind Thanos Chrysakis, this time in a collaboration with Philip Somervell. Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate to have reviewed a range of work on Chrysakis’ label Aural Terrains, work which broadly falls into electroacoustic composition or free improvisation, Knotted Alembic being an example of the latter.

Knotted Alembic easily reaches, and in many ways surpasses, the very high standards of previous releases. From the first few seconds you are drawn immediately into the viscerality of the sound, the sense of agency, the simple but effective combination of two players attending to contrasting tasks – one more static, the other more dynamic. The natural reverberation of the inside piano is exploited to the full. My only criticism is that the first piece doesn’t go on long enough, such was the interest in the clear articulations of the restricted range of sounds added to the energy of the playing.

Tracks 3 and 5 continue this investigation of the inside piano. Here I should mention the overall quality of the recording, a fine studio engineering job. Track 3 is a remarkable piece of music: we have the suspenseful quality of restraint, where very simple chords are allowed to sustain, revealing the inharmonicity of the struck strings, and where silence is given a structural role. Each event attempts to explore a different articulation, a different timbral nuance. You are obliged to listen attentively. Track 5 examines further the inharmonicity of the piano, its metallic resonances. I drew parallels here with the timbral and spectral explorations of some of the new microtonal music played on hand made metallophones. I felt that in this track, apparently created earlier than the others and obviously in different circumstances, the piano playing was more agitated and a wider range of sounds used than elsewhere in the album, though the work unfolds at just the right pace to appreciate the entry of the radio passages. This piece came over as less integrated into the album, despite the elegance of several very beautiful and straightforward ‘musical’ passages.

Track 2 consists of a low midrange pedal and foregrounded actions on vibes, chimes, drone and piano. The iterations of the tuned percussion, the use of the piano as tuned percussion, snaps on the inside piano – all of these helped the music to move formlessly in and out of different moods.

Two of the pieces, tracks 4 and 6, focus on the use of the sruti box as a strong background presence. The sruti is always a good choice of instrument if you want a versatile but unobtrusive background cushion on which to sit with your various gestures. In fact that’s why I think the instrument was designed. I’ve always understood and experienced the sruti box in the context of an accompaniment instrument for chanting mantras, or for singing simple Sanskrit praise songs, like the tanpura. It’s not surprising therefore that it never offends. In track 4 exploits the beating inherent in the drone’s texture, which contrasts well with the piano figures. Track 6 sets a range of musical resources against the drone: inside piano scrapes (bowed perhaps?) which are so physical that you feel the materiality of the instruments with more than your ears, alongside a synth bass, adding texture and density. There is never too much at one time, a temptation wisely avoided throughout this album. In fact we return to the simple and time-honoured beauty of a figure and ground presentation, true in fact to the sruti and other dronal instruments.

The last track is a short coda to the album, a sweet miniature with piano and synth,  another figure on ground.

The music never collapses into the easy option of alluding to the filmic, so simple to do with a piano whereby the player simply wanders around in a floating space of meaningless random chords and lines, often contextualised as ‘ambient’ to cover up any lack of design or intention. The artists’ close attention to the morphologies and materiality of the various sounds is far too important to let that particular kind of reductionism spoil the work.

Finally, going back over the output of Aural Terrains, I’d offer the suggestion that, because of its careful use of restricted resources, the hints of restraint and its fine treatment of pace and dynamics, Knotted Alembic is Chrysakis’ best offering to date.

Stef Gijssels -- Free Jazz [30.April.2012]

This new stuff that's hard to fathom, yet that's got me addicted ...

The great thing about free music, just like abstract painting, is that it forces you to go beyond the rational, to forget about anchor points, reference models, elements of recognition or patterns of comfort. Does this mean it belongs to the realm of the "emotional"? Well, not necessarily. It can create emotions, but it can contain very cerebral abstractions, which are alien to our feelings, yet still can be appreciated in an aesthetic way, whatever that means. It does resonate with something inside you, or it doesn't, at whatever level, which makes it extremely difficult for your humble servant, the reviewer, to write anything meaningful about it. It is often described as "noise" by its opponents, despite its use of low volume explorations.

Without a doubt the subgenre's roots are to be found in jazz, as testified by the use of instruments and by the musicians' backgrounds. You can also argue that the music's inherent openness and the importance of improvisation are typical for jazz too, but that's as far as the comparison goes. The sounds, the harmonies, the rhythms, the structure, the atmosphere, are anything but jazz.

Presenting all these albums in one go is a little disrespectful, because some of them really require some deeper analysis, but time is lacking, and the choice was either to pick a few out, and leave the rest unaddressed, or present a large bunch of them, with small indications of preference.

[...]

It could sound strange, but this music has kept me company during the long morning commutes to work, calming my nerves in the daily traffic jams and hostile motorised compatriots. Thanos Chrysakis and Philip Somervell dive deep into the sound possibilities of their pianos, often inside, but not necessarily. Chrysakis also plays synth and vibes, as well as shruti box and chimes.

The result of an incredible beauty, calm, paced, and in contrast to its dark cover, the sound is light and clear. On several tracks the shruti box provides the single-toned drone, on which drops of sound occasionally fall.

Richard Pinnell - The Watchful Ear - 14.01.12

So finally some thoughts tonight on a recent release by Thanos Chrysakis and Philip Somervell named Knotted Alembic and released on Chrysakis’ Aural Terrains label. Chrysakis is a Greek composer and multi-instrumental improviser who has lived in the UK since 1998. Somervell is a pianist best known to me of his performances alongside various members of Eddie Prévost’s improvisation workshop at various concerts. Across the seven tracks on this album, Somervell plays only piano, both from the inside and outside, while Chrysakis plays shruti box on three of the tracks, chimes on one, synth, vibraphone and radio on another and joins Somervell playing inside piano (I think on the same piano though I am not certain) on the remaining two tracks. The changes in instrumentation then give the album a variety of different faces, though throughout there is a slowness, a lean towards soft, often decaying sounds and some very good use of negative space. It is actually a very lovely record indeed, and one that may get overlooked amongst the circles that could really appreciate it, buried in the mass of CDs appearing right now.

Everything here is very nicely done, but the pieces that attract me less are probably those on which the Shruti box appear. Not being a big fan of drones, and the sound of that particular instrument in general interests me less, despite the very nice way the long tones are offset against gently chiming, and carefully pitched tones from the piano. Everything else here is really very good indeed though. A couple of the pieces leap out at me. Track three, featuring both musicians at the piano consists of a very simple, utterly beautiful improvisation around very slowly picked out single piano notes, spaced apart in a very Feldmanesque manner, but oozing a yearning sense of bluesy emotion slowed right down. Tiny little scrapes and rubs also appear, never too many, always keeping the fragility of the piece intact. This track underlines for me what is so wonderful about a piano - its ability, in the right hands to be the strongest, most powerful filter for music through just the simplest of touches.

The other track that grabs me a lot is the fifth piece (the tracks are all titled only with Roman numerals). It opens with seemingly wayward strikes at the now prepared piano, beautifully recorded with the long decaying notes held in the air. I am reminded a lot of John Tilbury’s wonderful realisation of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes by the sounds here and how they are spread apart. After three or four minutes through we are suddenly introduced to a radio, gradually tuned and retuned, so letting little grabs of spoken word appear as Chrysakis also drops little blobs of synthesiser distortion into the mix. The arrival of these new sounds immediately sends Somervell into a wilder, scraping, rubbing mode and for a while the music intensifies into an electrifying little section that to me resembles the trio form of AMM a great deal- the piano, the radio, the sudden switch from calm to brooding storm. The piece levels off into a searching blend of sharply defined piano notes and little shimmering scraping sounds, perhaps from the vibraphone that is also used on the track, but I’m not certain.

Overall this is a very well thought through collection of often very beautiful music. It is improvised throughout and yet feels well thought through and arranged, perhaps as a result of the quality recording and mastering here (its a studio recording) but also because I suspect a great deal of attention has been paid to the editing, selection and ordering of the tracks. Knotted Alembic sounds and feels like a significant work and a labour of love. I haven’t seen anything much written anywhere about this release, I don’t even remember where it came to my attention, leading me to purchase a copy. It would be a great shame I think if it went unnoticed as I think there is music here that deserves a wider audience. Fine work.

Guillaume Belhomme © Le son du grisli - 26.4.2012

Ce sont là deux pianos souvent remués de l’intérieur, augmentés de shruti-box, synthétiseur, vibraphone, radio… Pour les assaillir ou plus simplement en jouer : Thanos Chrysakis et Philip Somervell.

Les improvisations sont faites des plaintes de pianos à l’agonie et de cordes pincées qui rêveraient être assez influentes pour pouvoir les redresser un peu. Peine perdue. Mais de la lutte filtre un hymne dont la langueur est autrement suggestive. Des silences trouvent-là leur raison d’être quand le souffle de la shruti box, tremblant, n’emporte pas tout désir de constance. Pour l’avoir compris, Chrysakis et Somervell multiplient les pas de côté, s’amusent des légèretés de leurs dialogues et revendiquent un droit au désenchantement. Avec une cohérence surprenante.